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Girl, 14, Has Novel Wish for Future

July 12, 2000|ALLISON COHEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If Danica Davidson is soaring on her backyard swing, that probably means she's stuck on some detail about a character, a plot twist or perhaps simple story structure.

While other 14-year-olds are swimming, shooting hoops or away at camp, the incoming ninth-grader at John Burroughs High School in Burbank is spending her summer working on her 17th novel.

"I have fun doing this," she says. "No one really gets that but me."

Danica has been writing stories since . . . well, before she could write.

She started dictating stories to her parents when she was 3. They have saved every story from their only child, including "Me and the Doctor's Appointment," "The Baby Sitter from Hell" (banned from Burbank's Thomas Edison Elementary because of the four-letter word in the title), "The Revenge From Being Grounded," and her first novel, the 80-page "White Beauty," dictated when she was 7.

The stories and some of their accompanying colored-pencil illustrations make Danica's mother, Deborah Peckham, chuckle.

"Here's one she dictated," Peckham said proudly, fingering an aging piece of paper ripped from a spiral note pad. Mother and daughter guess the very short story about a dinosaur and a spaceship was dictated when Danica was 3.

"I loved dinosaurs," Danica said. "I should write a new story about one, maybe, sometime."

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But it will have to wait. She is currently writing a tongue-in-cheek account of the sometimes hard-to-appreciate and oft-misunderstood characters of Greek tragedies, her third in a series. What can you expect from a teenager whose favorite book is Homer's "Iliad"?

She is teaching herself the Greek alphabet, reads three books a week and works at her laptop computer well into the evening seven nights a week.

"She was born at 40 years old," her mother said.

The novels started fast and furious around sixth grade when she began typing her own stories on the computer.

"She got tired of waiting for us to type them for her, so she just started typing them herself," Peckham said.

The result was "Drachenberg," a modern-day vampire story that impressed her father, Peter Davidson.

"I read it and I thought to myself, 'This is pretty good,' " said Davidson, a technical writer.

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Since then, Danica has written a science fiction time-travel novel, a murder mystery and some historical fiction set during the American Revolution and in ancient Rome.

She has even written stories about the emotional and physical toil of attending middle school.

Her books run from 50 to 200 pages and take from a few weeks to months to complete.

Writing does not leave Danica with much free time. Last year, she was only halfheartedly in the yearbook club.

She is not in choir and does not play sports. All she wants to do is write.

"I am a cool nerd," she said. "Everyone at school just calls me 'The Writer.' "

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Danica earned the moniker by handing out copies of her manuscripts to friends at Burbank's David Starr Jordan Middle School. They would read her latest and pass it on.

"People I don't even know [would] come up and start talking to me," she said. One paid her a few dollars for a copy, another used one for a book report.

"The wit [in her books] is hysterical," said Jill Kocalis, a substitute teacher in Danica's English class last year. "Her friends at school just eat them up."

While she has won over teachers and classmates, publishers and agents have not been so easy.

"They always say that I'm too young or that I'm a nobody," Danica said of the 20 or so rejection letters she's received in the last two years. "It hurts . . . but I try to not take it personally."

Although Danica has won every writing contest she has entered, it is not enough.

"I think about [getting published] constantly," she said. "Writing is my whole life . . . and I don't want to lose my dreams."

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Class Notes appears every Wednesday. Send news about schools to the Valley Edition, Los Angeles Times, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth 91311. Or fax it to (818) 772-3338.

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